With just over a week to go before polling booths close, National Party leader Christopher Luxon is still announcing policy to convince the New Zealand public he’s the one to back.
His latest bid to ensure he achieves lift-off is a suite of policies aimed at the aerospace industry.
In an announcement fittingly taking place at Mission Control at Auckland aerospace manufacturers Rocket Lab, Luxon said a National-led government would create a Minister for Space, streamline rules around rocket launches and make immigration easier for aerospace engineers.
National would also establish two dedicated testing zones for space and aerospace companies and introduce new KPIs for the aerospace regulator – although details on these are yet to be revealed.
The aerospace industry is one of the favourite children of the New Zealand economy according to Luxon. He was extolling the virtues of companies like Rocket Lab even back at the beginning of his Get New Zealand Back on Track roadshow, along with the burgeoning video games industry.
“I often talk about the potential for New Zealand to excel in international areas, and I have to say that Rocket Lab absolutely embodies all of that ambition and aspiration,” Luxon said.
He has often campaigned on New Zealand being a country of unrealised potential in his stump speeches – so perhaps a little tender loving care for the aerospace industry is hoped to incentivise similarly pioneering businesses.
Rocket Lab was the first company in the Southern Hemisphere to reach space, and they are now joined in the New Zealand space industry by a crowding field of competitors.
CEO Peter Beck said in New Zealand that industry is worth $1.7 billion and employs 12,000 people.
Worldwide, the industry is forecast to reach over $1 trillion by 2030.
“New Zealand is well-positioned to take a decent slice of that pie,” Beck said.
He and Luxon are apparently old friends, having first met back when the two of them shared the skies: as Air New Zealand CEO, Luxon had to organise with Beck over when rocket tests could go off so as not to disrupt flights going from Auckland to Argentina.
Luxon obviously has a history of looking up, but in the past he’s kept within the atmosphere.
But although he’s creating a new Minister for Space who can answer to industry on regulatory issues, New Zealand has had its own governmental space agency since 2016.
The New Zealand Space Agency leads space policy, regulation and sector development from within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Having a specific ministerial portfolio will direct more attention to the industry and its performance, but much of the role seems to be already covered by this pre-existing agency.
Luxon said ministerial appointments would only be disclosed after the election (aside from Prime Minister – himself, and Finance Minister – Nicola Willis).
It’s a safe bet that National Southland MP Joseph Mooney would pick up the job, and not just because of his surname. Mooney is the current National Party spokesperson for space.
National would also institute an annual Prime Minister’s space prize for the top school student in aerospace-related subjects to help boost interest in STEM subjects.
Floating this policy to Beck in front of the media might have caused Luxon to come back down to earth a little bit: “Would the school prize help?” he asked Beck.
“Maybe,” the CEO said. “I think it’s more the education.”
National intends to rewrite the curriculum to include minimum requirements of what primary and intermediate schools must teach every year in science, with the hope this will ready more students to get into aerospace or similar fields.
It’s less clear what those rewrites would actually look like, or how long it would take for them to bear fruit.
The announcement from Luxon comes just days after the Government pledged $5.4 million to help build runway and hangar facilities at Kaitorete on Banks Peninsula to support the aerospace industry.
Infrastructure Minister Megan Woods said this investment would help prevent aerospace companies from moving offshore.
“The aerospace industry is one of those examples where New Zealand has huge opportunities,” she said. “We’re talking billions of dollars and thousands of highly-skilled high-paid jobs, and our Government is committed to investing in those industries.”
It seems both potential future governments are committed to investing in the industry.
National, however, is pledging two further testing zones in addition to Kaitorete, which would also be exempt from usual compliance and remove the need for case-by-case permissions for testing.
Rather than the government purchasing that land, private landowners would be able to bid to have their property declared an offical launch site.